- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Motorists routinely contemplate local construction projects while commuting, going shopping or traversing on a family vacation in the summer heat, or during a quiet trip to Grandmas. But the ubiquitous encounters millions upon millions of East Coasters have with Interstate 95 could cause more than a brief pause for reflection.

If Interstate 95 were a nation instead of a highway, here are some brief demographics and statistics:

Population on the highway: 660,000, using a known maximum vehicle count of 300,000 multiplied by a conservative average occupancy per vehicle of 2.2, which is greater than Montenegro, Malta, Luxembourg or Iceland.

Population of the corridor: 110 million

Land area of the highway: 726 square miles using a known length of 1,917 miles and an average width of 2,000 feet

Land area of the corridor: 380,000 square miles.

Gross domestic product of the corridor: $ 4.7 trillion, which is 40 percent of the U.S. GDP

According to the I-95 Corridor Coalition, the I-95 corridor also includes 22,000 miles of Class 1 rail mileage, 46 major seaports, 103 commercial airports, and at least 40,000 national highway system miles.

I-95 travels through more states (15) than any other American interstate, and passes through literally hundreds of counties, including five classified as rural. The I-95 corridor is more densely populated than Western Europe, and has the worlds second-biggest economy.

Yet there is a problem with living in I-95 nation. If we freeze time at any given moment and examine citizens who belong to I-95 nation, they are all inside of their vehicles, completely insulated from each other as surely as if they were in another dimension.

Members of the I-95 nation can be stuck in a traffic jam and be literally within touching distance of the driver or passenger next to us. Yet, seldom do our eyes meet, and rarely do we salute one another with a wave. No rolling down of windows either to exchange words.

Why should they? Theyll never meet again.

Or will they?

Using a simple logarithm that assumes we meet more than 1,000 new people a year (this counts people we stand next to in checkout lines who we dont even think about), and that at least 40 percent of them live in the corridor (many more do in fact, if you are actually shopping in the corridor at the time), and that the average corridor resident travels on I-95 up to 50 times or more a year (many commuters do so in the hundreds; some, the thousands), this means that mathematically we will meet a given person we “know” on I-95 approximately every 10 minutes of travel time.

This is a crude formulation, and the question of course is whether we will really recognize them (we wont), and this again raises the more important question: Do superhighways like I-95 dehumanize us?

Do we behave differently on I-95 than we do in the home, office or shopping mall? Are our cars really our protective environmental suits that comfortably insulate us from other human beings that we dont have time or interest in dealing with?

I-95 nation has its own police, its own legal system (traffic fines), and increasingly its own services (food, gas, shopping that only I-95 citizens can access in travel plazas). It has its own militarylike armored forces (who have barracks with trucks, wear orange uniforms, store salt in great piles for winter battles, and who delay as for no good reason). We who live in the corridor really have dual citizenship: We belong to county X, or subdivision Y, but we all are also citizens of I-95 nation.

Im not sure why there has not been a popular uprising. Why hasnt someone started a wildcat strike (picketing along overpasses or buying billboard space, for example)? Why do we have “study” groups instead of revolutionary cells? It must be that all of us dual citizens just passively accept our fate, or perhaps in some perverted American fashion even enjoy it.

I reject it. Poor old U.S. Route 1. Since I-95 was built, no one bothers to “see” the East Coast anymore - they just traffic their way through it. Or, to be sure, when there is a pileup or construction delay, old U.S. Route 1 becomes a clogged, honking traffic jam itself filled with irritated commuters and moms with crying babies.

Everyone thinks they know how to beat the system. Secretly we all know the system sucks. But were not willing to give up our jobs, our relationships, our recreation or our comforts to do anything about it.

I reject my citizenship in I-95 nation. Henceforth, I will canoe beneath its overpasses (on the Anna rivers in central Virginia), bike across its roar (on Route 54 in Hanover), walk around its metal fences and gravel edges. (I still want to be able to go the Bass Pro Shops along Route 1.) But I am a man with only one country.

Do not try and serve me with my draft card for I-95 - I will burn it. In fact, I am going to pull my Jefferson readings out and draft my own declaration of independence (at least until I take my kids to a Washington Nationals game).

• Jack Trammell is an assistant professor at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va.

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